History is ever conveniently trampled here and no one cares. An example is how 40 years has become identified with television broadcasting in Nigeria. Evidence of this miscarriage of history is everywhere, especially online among younger generation of Nigerians. They say they’re unaware of any TV station that’s older than the Nigerian Television Authority that’s celebrating 40 years of its existence. I congratulate the NTA on its anniversary. But I have my reservations, because as a result of the 40 years that the NTA celebrates the true age of TV broadcasting in Nigeria has been thrown under the carpet. History is forgotten.
We know that television broadcasting in Nigeria (the first in Africa) is 59 years old, not 40. How the Federal Government had in the past gobbled up what should belong to the constituent units created the confusion. No thanks to the military in politics, an aberration that I’ve never clapped for. Meanwhile, for me, by celebrating 40 years of existence of the NTA raises issues regarding our federal arrangement as well as the preservation of our history. The following shall serve as a backdrop. The other day, a panel set up by the All Progressives Congress to consider the restructuring debate submitted its report. With his view on how the skewed federation was being run already known even before he became the governor of Kaduna State, what Mallam Nasir el-Rufai said when his committee submitted its report to the APC leadership didn’t surprise.
The fifth item in the recommendations submitted by the el-Rufai committee was the movement to the Concurrent Legislative List issues of mines and minerals, oilfields and mining, geological surveys and natural gas. El-Rufai said, it was “the feedback we got from Nigerians because offshore oil is federation asset, everything in the continental shelf and exclusive economic zone which is also policed by the Nigerian Navy belongs to the federation but minerals, oil, everything in the land belongs to those that own the land which is the state governments; but we think the time has come that we take this bold step and move away from over-centralisation.”
His panel also recommended that the police should be moved to the Concurrent List. It made a similar recommendation for the Prison Service. The committee noted that before 1966 most prisons were under the control of local governments or native authorities. As such, a return to the same arrangement would reduce the burden on the Federal Government and reduce prison congestion because states would be able to build additional prisons.
The panel equally recommends that the registration of business names should be moved to the Concurrent List “so that business names which seek to operate nationwide can be registered at the federal level while those who seek to operate only in the states should be registered at the state level.” According to el-Rufai, and this is most relevant to this piece, “if these amendments are passed by the National Assembly, they will significantly re-balance our federation, devolve more powers to the states, reduce the burden of the Federal Government and make our country work better.” This last part equally calls attention to how the FG agencies go about ‘donating’ to the 36 states what should be theirs by law.
Few days ago, the FRSC boss, Boboye Oyeyemi, visited Rivers State. At a meeting with the state governor, Oyeyemi announced that he would establish a vehicle plate number-making plant in Port Harcourt. Here, the FRSC wants to “dash” Rivers State what it has the right to establish by itself. We know that under a federal arrangement, states have the right to do all that agencies such as the FRSC are doing, because they too own roads. This is clear from what the Lagos State Government has demonstrated since 1999 by establishing its own plate number-making plant, with officials that monitor traffic on its roads. Why should it be a federal agency that offers to do the same in Rivers State? The entire episode brings to mind how, for whatever reasons, most states don’t utilise the power that they legally have, or is implied. These states currently demand restructuring or the devolution of power from the Federal Government, but the power that they do have they don’t use.
I think making full use of the powers that states have already is where to start, rather than concentrate energy, shouting themselves hoarse, to get what they don’t have. State governments should look in the direction of how to utilise their legally-given powers to automatically put most FG agencies, tailored for a unitary system, where they belong. Instead, the states have continued to provide relevance for these agencies that were established during the military era and which, in a civilian dispensation, should have been stylishly discouraged from getting involved in states’ affairs as most of them do at the moment.
It’s against this backdrop I state here that every public institution of any historical importance hijacked by the Federal Government from the components units during the military era be returned to them. Regionally-based TV stations that the NTA gobbled up in 1977, through Decree 24, belonged in this category. The Western Nigeria Television, established in 1959, and the first in Africa is one of them. By a decree, the then existing 12 regionally-based TV stations were swallowed up by the NTA which became the only body empowered to engage in TV broadcasting in Nigeria. Military mentality. Of all the former regional stations, the WNTV no doubt embodies the foundation of the history of TV broadcasting in Africa. This is why it’s crucial that the WNTV now known as NTA Ibadan be removed from the NTA family and made to stand alone as a living history, a continuous testament to one of Nigeria’s unforgettable firsts. Except this is done, the authentic history of TV broadcasting in Nigeria will fade away. This nation needn’t let it happen.
I make this call also because states in the South-West have shown seriousness regarding their integration. They had shown serious commitment towards maximising the combined energy and resources of the region, establishing as they did in 2013 a Development Agenda for Western Nigeria and the DAWN Commission, the technocratic institution for the sustainable development of the area. This commission is “fully empowered by the Governments to ensure the delivery of the composite development aspirations of the Region”.
In view of the above, I’m convinced that states in this region have the responsibility to protect the history of TV broadcasting which began with them. They mustn’t allow the 1959 landmark die an unnatural death. It’s to their pride that the WNTV lives. But it’s also to the pride of Nigerians as one that the first TV station on the continent is still in existence, autonomous, modernised, and answering its own name, rather than where it’s currently hidden under the NTA. In any case, if the first TV station that the West has is allowed to die, a vital part of Western Nigeria’s proud and rich history dies. I want the Governments of the South-West to (if only legally and symbolically) take the WNTV back from the NTA, give it its old name and have its history appropriately traced back to 1959, (mentioning only in passing on the WNTV’s history pages the period of interregnum that it has experienced under NTA).
Moreover, the DAWN Commission can adopt the WNTV as its broadcast arm, the network TV station for the region, and use it to project to the rest of the world the region’s pursuit of an integrated agenda. This is an endeavour worth pursuing by the states, more so as the NTA now has over 100 other stations apart from NTA Ibadan. The South-West states should, at least, take back from the NTA that very 1959 TV edifice in Ibadan (and give another building to the NTA if it so desires it). They should treat the WNTV Ibadan structure as their legitimate property which the Federal Government forcefully took from them in 1977. The Ibadan Station should then be given a face-lift, repositioned both in image and broadcast quality. I wish the structures of the other regional TV stations would be returned to their original owners too. It’s an excellent way of preserving our history. More importantly, it’s one of the ways by which we can, as the el-Rufai committee recommends, return what should reside with component units to them, as well as remove the many covers of unitary governance that have been placed on our federal structure